Congressman Mike Capuano Files Legislation to Create a Nationwide Highway Tunnel Inspection Program

January 11, 2007

Congressman Mike Capuano has filed legislation amending the Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program to include the mandatory inspection of all highway tunnels. The entire Massachusetts House Congressional Delegation joined him in this effort. The Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program requires that all highway bridges be inspected and establishes a series of minimum inspection standards. Under this proposal, highway tunnels will also be subject to standardized inspection.

Since the tragic July death of Milena Del Valle as a result of a falling ceiling panel in one of the Big Dig tunnels, many questions have been rightfully raised about the short-term and long-term safety of this project. These questions include issues relating to inspection of the tunnel. Additionally, inspections conducted on the Sumner and Callahan tunnels in Boston in the aftermath of the Big Dig tragedy revealed maintenance issues that may have gone unnoticed while they worsened. Currently there are no national standards or requirements for inspecting highway tunnels. Instead, this responsibility lies with the tunnel owners, who have complete authority to determine how their tunnels should be inspected. At a minimum, tunnel owners must follow the requirements included in their bonding agreements relating to the structure.

"Clearly, this level of scrutiny was not enough in Massachusetts and more must be done to ensure the safety of the traveling public. There is no question that national standards should exist for the inspection of all highway tunnels. My legislation simply takes the Nationwide Bridge Inspection program and adds highway tunnels. It is a simple yet effective method of ensuring the safety of highway tunnels nationwide," stated Congressman Mike Capuano, who is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Under this proposal, the Secretary of Transportation will establish minimum inspection requirements for tunnels. This will include the maximum amount of time permitted between inspections and the manner in which inspections will be carried out. The Secretary will also establish the qualifications necessary for those conducting inspections, establish a national certification program for highway tunnel inspectors and implement a program to train inspectors.

Rep. Edward Markey said, "I am pleased to join Congressman Capuano in creating a nationwide inspection program for tunnels. As we in Massachusetts know all too well, if problems in tunnels are not identified early, the consequences can be disastrous. We need to ensure that tunnels are inspected on a regular basis to identify potential defects and maintain a safe and reliable tunnel system. This tunnel inspection program is vital to securing both the public safety and public confidence."

Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, who along with Congressman Capuano held the first Congressional hearing on the Big Dig structural problems, said, "One of the great lessons of the Big Dig is that a lack of oversight and insufficient inspection standards can lead to serious problems in design and construction, and even tragedy. Engineering experts, inspectors and transportation leaders all agree—it's a simple matter of common sense. Tunnels should be subject to the same rigorous inspection protocol as our bridges. I urge my colleagues to support this long overdue legislative fix that will improve the safety of our tunnels nationwide, and our confidence in them."

As with the Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program, states will be required to maintain an inventory of all highway tunnel inspection reports, including information detailing any follow up actions relating to inspections. The legislation also authorizes funds for the implementation of a tunnel inspection program.

"We currently subject our nation's bridges to all of these requirements, it is critical that our highway tunnels also receive the same careful scrutiny," stated Congressman Mike Capuano.

"Congressman Capuano is performing an important service for the country in drawing on the tragic lessons learned in Massachusetts to create a program that will help prevent a repetition of these events," stated Congressman Barney Frank.

"Americans deserve to expect the same level of safety when they travel through tunnels as they do on the nation's roads, highways, and bridges. This important legislation will ensure that is always the case," stated Congressman William Delahunt.

"This legislation takes the much-needed step of standardizing the tunnel inspection process. Ensuring the public's safety must be our paramount priority, and I welcome the opportunity to join with Congressman Capuano on this important, common sense effort," said Congressman John F. Tierney (MA-06)


Contact: Alison M. Mills (617) 621-6208